Factometer: fiction

The claim
“[Gordon Brown] is spending 11 times more on locking children up than on stopping them committing crime in the first place.”
Nick Clegg MP, Prime Minister’s Questions, 10 March 2010

The background
Defence spending dominated PMQs yesterday, with Gordon Brown saying – incorrectly – that the defence budget had increased every year in real terms (as we FactChecked here).

But in the parliamentary question-slinging, Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg made an interesting claim of his own. He said the government spent 11 times more on “locking up” children, than preventing them from brushing with the law.

Is he right?

The analysis
The Youth Justice Board – a quango with an annual budget of nearly £500mn- oversees the youth justice system in England and Wales.

Clegg’s claim is based on a 2007 audit of Labour’s own youth justice reforms carried out by the independent Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College London.

“Ten times more is spent on custody than on prevention, which accounts for 5 per cent of YJB expenditure,” it said. It was “striking” that the balance was tilted so far in this way, the report’s authors noted.

This was based on figures from 2006-7, and was in fact a slight understatement. Go back to the raw data, and in that year, 11.78 times more was spent on custody than prevention programmes.

But that was then – what about now?

More recent figures (2008-9) don’t bear Clegg out. According to the Youth Justice Board’s latest accounts (p40) £298mn is being spent on prison places (up from £279mn in 2006-7).

In contrast, £36.5mn is going on prevention programmes (up from £24mn in 2006-7).

So while the amount being spent on custodial places has increased marginally, the amount going on prevention has increased significantly. This is mostly to do with extra Home Office funding for a prevention of violent extremism programme.

According to these new figures, the Youth Justice Board now spends eight times as much on – to quote Clegg, locking children up – than on prevention.

“You’re talking about custodial places, which involve bricks and mortar, and so will cost more than prevention programmes,” said CCJS’s Richard Garside, the report’s co-author.

“But it is instructive how much more is spent on custody, as an indication of where the government’s priorities lie.”

The verdict
Clegg was right to say that much more is spent on youth custody than on prevention programmes. But he used outdated figures, which meant he gave an exaggerated picture in parliament.

His broad point is right but FactCheck can’t forgive him for using the wrong set of figures so we have to rate it on the side of fiction.

Clegg’s spokesman said the Lib Dems will update their briefings on the issue. “Needless to say, we remain of the view that spending eight or eleven times (as much on custodial places for children than prevention) are both a scandal,” he said.